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Feb 24, 2008

Malaysian election reform activists threaten mass rally

KUALA TERENGGANU, Malaysia (AFP) — Malaysian activists have accused electoral authorities of dirty tricks ahead of March 8 polls and are threatening to hold a mass rally in Kuala Lumpur in protest.

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) which last November gathered some 30,000 people in the capital to demand reforms, slammed last-minute changes to electoral rules ahead of nomination day Sunday.

They said that opposition candidates, particularly in northern states where Friday and Saturday are holidays, could be disqualified by a rule announced Thursday that they must pay stamp duty on their applications to contest.

"How are opposition candidates in states like Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu supposed to get the stamps especially when Friday and Saturday is the weekend here?" BERSIH organiser Mohammad Sabu told a crowd of 5,000 supporters.

If opposition candidates are disqualified over the issue, "we will get half a million people in KL for several days," he told a rally in northeastern Terengganu state late Friday.

Government offices selling revenue stamps in the northern states will open at 8am on Sunday, considered a working day here, leaving candidates little time before nominations must be submitted between 9am and 10am Sunday.

"I see this as a gimmick to make things difficult for opposition candidates," said Mustaffa Ali, state election chief for the Islamic opposition party PAS.

Mustaffa also criticised the Election Commission for providing exceptions on the use of indelible ink on voters' fingers, refusing demands to abolish postal votes which Bersih says are manipulated, and not cleaning up electoral rolls.

Since winning independence half a century ago, Malaysia has been ruled by a coalition of race-based parties under the Barisan Nasional (BN) banner, led by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's United Malays National Organisation.

Opposition parties are hoping to deny the BN a two-thirds majority in parliament at this year's polls, with the government under fire over rising prices of food and fuel, and rising racial tension in the multi-ethnic country.


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